At a rally Thursday in Toledo, Ohio, Trump mused about the possibility of canceling the 2016 election and simply handing the presidency to himself.
“And just thinking to myself right now, we should just cancel the election and just give it to Trump, right? What are we even having it for? What are we having it for?” he asked as the crowd cheered. Referring to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, he added: “Her policies are so bad. Boy, do we have a big difference.”
Everybody and their brother featured the quote in headlines about the Trump rally. Some of them, to their credit, noted that Trump appeared to be joking.
Others took it more seriously.
This wasn't necessarily the main reaction to Trump's comments, mind you, but they were generally reported in a pretty straightforward manner — as if this were a real idea that Trump was putting forward.
I'll admit here that it's often hard to draw the line between when Trump is joking and when he's not; that's a judgment call that journalists don't love to make. And even things that Trump appears to say in jest might be newsworthy because he's really trying to plant a seed, while allowing himself a convenient “I was just joking” defense.
Trump's comments on Thursday also can't be divorced from his recent remarks about how the election will be rigged against him and how Clinton shouldn't even be allowed to run. They fit into something of a pattern, and some clearly saw them as being dismissive of the democratic process.
So, it’s a joke. But it’s a joke that connects with other non-joke Trump statements deeply at odds with the very process of democratic transfer of power. For instance, “I alone” can save us (a refrain from the convention onward). Or, “It’s rigged, folks, rigged” (of recent months). Or “I’ll keep you in suspense” (at the final debate, about accepting the vote outcome.)Why do all of these deserve notice? Because other nominees just do not say things like this. Really, this is new — and different, and dangerous, and worth recording as it happens to remember when this election has passed.
But do people really think there is any real process under which the election would be canceled and the presidency would be handed to Trump? Do these comments really undermine the democratic process in a way akin to alleging massive unproven voter fraud and refusing to concede the race (as Trump has threatened)? Some will argue the answers to both of those questions are “yes.”
What's more, even if it was intended as a joke and not a serious proposal, it's something at least some of his supporters seem to be generally approving of.
But there's also something to be said about not making every semi-provocative statement from Trump into something bigger than it is. Trump says many things that are clearly worthy of parsing and analysis, and we here on The Fix have certainly taken part in that process. In this case, though, many will undoubtedly look at the reaction to Trump's comments and think that the media, as well as Trump's critics, just don't quite get it and that we're reading the worst into what Trump says at all times.
Which is, in a way, exactly what Trump wants -- even if it's not really helping to elect him president.